Lush Demystified: Top Natural Products, Shopping Tips — Introduction

Things over at Lush can be a little confusing for the green shopper. The company seems so eco-conscious, and everything is fresh and handmade. But then again, some of the ingredients aren’t natural or safe. At Lush, eco-shoppers need to be careful, but they can still find many great products. It’s time to have Lush demystified.

An assortment of Lush soap bars and other solid products.
Image by Tony Webster [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Lush is a good company, and perhaps it would make more all-natural products if there was a more consistent demand for it.

And it’s a decent shopping option for Northern Ontarians, not only because its products can be ordered online for a reasonable shipping fee, but also because the vast majority of Lush products purchased in Ontario are made in Etobicoke, part of the Greater Toronto Area.

So instead of listing all the harmful ingredients in Lush products as reasons to avoid them, I’m sharing some tips for finding the best Lush has to offer. I’ve even done some pre-screening to suggest specific products.

By having Lush demystified, I hope to influence green shoppers’ buying decisions, which may eventually influence which ingredients are used in Lush products.

Pros and Cons of Shopping at Lush

Thumbs Up

On the one hand, Lush is a really great company. Over half its fresh and handmade products are in solid form to avoid packaging, reduce water consumption, and eliminate preservatives. Lush uses 100% recycled and recyclable or compostable materials when its products do require packaging.

It sources ingredients ethically, campaigns against animal testing, participates in social and environmental activism, gives to charity, and funds cruelty-free scientific research. It sources “low-impact and ethically responsible fuels” for transporting its ingredients and products. It only uses vegetarian ingredients.

And Lush does much more to ensure that its environmental impact is as low as possible while remaining dedicated to social responsibility.

Thumbs Down

On the other hand, many Lush products contain ingredients that aren’t natural, and even potentially toxic.

Lush has a policy of full disclosure for all its ingredients, but most ingredient descriptions veil the harmful nature of the so-called “safe synthetics” found in many Lush products.

Some of the most common are “perfume” and “fragrance,” which may both be safe but cannot be considered so since they are unknown (both are combinations of ingredients which the law protects as a “secret formula”).

Tips for Eco-Friendly Shopping at Lush

Shopping online has several advantages, not the least of which is avoiding persuasive clerks and unexpected purchases (winky face).

Kidding aside, the great thing about shopping online is that for each product, natural ingredients are listed in green, and synthetic ingredients are listed in black.

Some solid bars of shampoo by Lush.
Image by Tony Webster [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

To learn more about any ingredient, just click on it to visit the Lushopedia. For ingredients listed in black, which are supposedly “safe synthetics,” you’re better off to verify them in the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database.

The Lushopedia doesn’t say anything negative about its ingredients. Compare Lush’s description of sodium stearate to the EWG’s description of sodium stearate. According to the Skin Deep Cosmetics Database, sodium stearate is suspected to be an environmental toxin. Lush’s description doesn’t mention side effects, only uses.

If you’ll be visiting a store in person, it’s worth scouting the product descriptions online first since the ingredients lists on the products themselves aren’t colour-coded.

Plus you can look up those ingredients you don’t recognise when you’re online, while you’re more likely to dismiss them as unimportant on the spur of the moment.

Lush Products Demystified

I’ve checked out a bunch of Lush products in an attempt to find the most natural, safest ones. Since I wouldn’t normally buy liquid products, I only looked at solid items. I didn’t find much, so I’ll start with the ones that didn’t make the cut.

Nays

Toothy Tabs

We love Toothy Tabs for backcountry camping since they weigh very little, take up very little space, and we can just bring the exact amount we need for our trip. Unfortunately, all Lush Toothy Tabs contain sodium lauroyl sarcosinate, which is suspected of being an environmental toxin. We really hope this ingredient will be taken out of Toothy Tabs, and pronto!

Lip Scrubs

The Mint Julips Lip Scrub is made of all-natural ingredients.

Update (August 11, 2015): It occurred to me that like perfume and fragrance, flavour is an unidentified combination of other ingredients, not an ingredient in and of itself. I decided to look it up, and I’m glad I did. Lush may or may not be justified in calling its flavours natural, but until it fully discloses the ingredients in each flavour, the claim that the ingredients are safe cannot be trusted. For this reason, the EWG rates flavour as moderately hazardous, and I can no longer recommend this product without reservation.

Lip Balms

If only Lush made more products like it makes its Lip Balms. The Honey Trap, None of Your Beeswax, Lip Service, and Chocolate Whipstick Lip Balms contain all-natural ingredients.

Update (August 11, 2015): Since each of these products contains flavour, I’ve had to remove my endorsement.

Face Moisturizers

The Full of Grace solid face moisturizer is made of all-natural ingredients and safe synthetics.

Update (August 11, 2015): Unfortunately, it appears that fragrance has been added to the ingredients list since this article was originally written, so I can no longer recommend any of the face moisturizers (frowny face).

Bath Bombs

Sadly, all Bath Bombs contain fragrance, perfume, or some other horrible ingredient. The best of the Bath Bombs is made with propylene glycol, and FD and Green #3 dyes. Who wants to bathe in that? Ick! Moreover, since Green #3 may be derived from or tested on animals, I wonder that Lush would even consider using it. But when looking up colours in the Lushopedia, the company says very little about its dyes in general.

Bubble Bars

Regrettably, all Bubble Bars contain either fragrance or perfume. The idea of a solid bubble bath is really awesome, so I wish Lush would rely on fresh ingredients for scent.

Bath Melts

Most of the Bath Melts contain either fragrance or perfume. The best one contains Laureth-4, which is probably a skin irritant. No good.

Shower Scrubs

Absolutely all of the Lush Shower Scrubs contain fragrance or perfume. The company says that its shops smell so much because of the fresh ingredients in the products, but I have my doubts!

Conditioner Bars

Ditto for the solid Conditioner bars. None are made without fragrance or perfume.

Shampoo Bars

While not all of the Lush Shampoo bars contain fragrance or perfume, the best one contains sodium lauryl sulfate and DandC Red #30, so that’s not any better.

Body Butters

Once again, all of the solid Body Butters are made with either fragrance or perfume. Darn!

Deodorant Bars

The T’eo Deodorant bar is made of natural ingredients and safe synthetics.

Update (August 11, 2015): Once again, it appears that fragrance has been added to this product’s ingredients.

Deodorant Powders

The Greeench Deodorant Powder contains all-natural ingredients and safe synthetics.

Update (August 11, 2015): As above, fragrance can now be found on the list of ingredients for this product. More worrisome, though, is what I’ve recently learned about talc thanks to a comment left by a reader. Since it is a natural ingredient, Lush is justified in listing it in green on its website — but I think it’s rather shocking that Lush takes the position that “there is no evidence to support concerns,” given that the EWG rates talc as moderately hazardous and “the National Toxicology Panel demonstrated that cosmetic-grade talc free of asbestos is a form of magnesium silicate that also can be toxic and carcinogenic.”

Dusting Powders

The T for Toes Dusting Powder contains natural ingredients and safe synthetics.

Update (August 11, 2015): As above, this product now contains fragrance.

Yays

Toner Tabs

Toner Tabs are two-in-one facial steams and toners. The Tea Tree Toner Tab is made with all-natural ingredients and safe synthetics. And of course, it’s just great to be able to get a solid toner!

Green Tips from Lush

The good folk at Lush really do care about the planet and its inhabitants. They offer these great green tips for reducing impact:

Conclusion

While Lush is a good company with good intentions, it’s still got a long way to go before it can call its products safe and natural. With luck, someone at Lush will read this and instigate some changes in hopes of a better review next time. One change it would be nice to see ASAP would be to list those synthetic ingredients which aren’t completely safe in red instead of black. In the meantime, I hope having Lush demystified comes in handy for someone.

Update (August 11, 2015): Given all the updates I’ve made today, it’s clear that in the 15 months or so following the publication of this article, things have gotten worse at Lush, not better. With only one truly safe and natural solid product left, it’s getting difficult for me to defend Lush as a good company. Lush really needs to disclose the ingredients it uses in its fragrances, perfumes, and flavours. It might then be possible to return many of the products reviewed to the Yays section. So please continue to share this article directly with Lush to let the company know exactly what changes you’d like to see!

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Comments

23 Thoughts on “Lush Demystified: Top Natural Products, Shopping Tips

  1. Mona Letusa:

    Thank you for all your efforts that you have put in this. quite intriguing information.

  2. N. Banba:

    Nice blog, thanks for sharing this kind of information.

  3. Elizabeth:

    Helpful information, thanks!
    I think Lush has the potential to be a fantastic company. I use their deodorant block and love it. Today, I’m returning the Caca Noir Henna bar, which is a great product, except for the lack of clarity around ingredients and overpowering perfume. From what I read here, it doesn’t seem that they are concerned with the well-being of their customers or the environment. It seems they go to lengths to hide what they know to be harmful and the rest is greenwashing. If they spent all that marketing effort taking replacing the (overwhelming and unnecessary) chemicals, I’d be a huge fan.

    1. Hi Elizabeth,

      I think that returning a product and making sure to explain that lack of clarity about the ingredients is the reason for the return is one of the most effective ways to draw Lush’s attention to customer dissatisfaction.

      You’re right that there’s a lot of greenwashing on the company website, and it’s insulting. People try to find all-natural products, and are misled by Lush’s marketing. However, I do think that the people behind Lush have good intentions and just need to move beyond the “profit and growth” business model. I agree that their efforts and dollars could be better spent.

      The more people take the time to express themselves to Lush, and follow your lead in returning (or not buying) products with unhealthy or unspecified ingredients, the less Lush will be able to ignore and mislead its customers.

      To be honest, I see Lush as a good but misguided company. It does so much right — it just needs to do a little more. I have high hopes that Lush will transition to a 100% natural ingredients list, and I hope that change comes sooner rather than later…

  4. Healing:

    This is great, thanks! (smiley face) I agree that contacting Lush and other companies and expressing feedback is really important. I also love that you’re taking responsibility to do the research and encouraging the support of companies and products that are safe and healthy. I am too! Another area to consider is making your own products from home with ethically sourced/produced/packaged ingredients. That is the direction I am heading in. Away from synthetics all together.

    1. Thanks very much! I did work many hours to research the ingredients mentioned in the article. I’ve found it so worthwhile, too! I’ve been able to apply the knowledge to other products as well, not just Lush (smiley face).

      Getting in touch with Lush about the use of these ingredients is really important, as you say, because the company can’t incorporate changes unless it knows that its customers want them. If you haven’t already, you can Tweet this article to Lush, or post it on its Facebook page, to indicate what it is specifically that you don’t like about the company and/or the ingredients it uses in its products.

      Since you like making your own products, you should check out my kombucha section — we make our own kombucha vinegar, which we use in our homemade cleaning products, as a hair conditioner and facial toner, and as a cooking ingredient. I’ve also written an article on how to reduce waste and packaging when preparing a school or work lunch, which might be of interest to you. Cheers!

  5. Donna Ellison:

    Wonderful work, Julie! You are doing a great service for us.

    I would respectfully ask you to reconsider that the Lush Greeench Deodorant Powder contains safe ingredients. The first ingredient listed in Greeench is “talc,” and talc is a dangerous carcinogen. My mother died of ovarian cancer and she used powders with talc daily. Here in the U.S. at least one woman with ovarian cancer has sued Johnson & Johnson successfully due to the companies use of talc in their products.

    (Talcum powder is really good for killing ants. If you sprinkle it around the outside of your house, it provides a barrier. Just be careful not to inhale or get any on your skin.)

    Here is a link: Talc and Ovarian Cancer.

    Again, I really enjoy your blog!

    Donna E.

    1. Thank you, Donna, for both the compliments and the information. I’m very sorry to hear of your mother’s suffering.

      It certainly didn’t occur to me that talc could be dangerous since it’s natural, but reading the link you shared as well as the EWG’s info on talc, I see that you’re right! The cosmetics companies involved claim that talc is only dangerous when contaminated by impurities such as asbestos, but studies have shown that even pure talc can also be toxic and carcinogenic! It is rated as moderately hazardous by the EWG. I will update the article accordingly. Thanks again for taking the time to inform me of this!

  6. Kristen:

    Why are fragrances and perfumes bad?

    1. Fragrances and perfumes aren’t necessarily bad — what’s bad is that their ingredients are unknown (the law protects the combination of ingredients in fragrances and perfumes as “secret formulas”). Since it’s impossible to know for sure what’s in them, consumers can’t trust any claims made about them.

  7. Thank you for writing this article! Check out salonsolids (Facebook). Solid shampoo/conditioner made pure with essential oils only. I created salonsolids to solve the problem of plastic waste and unsafe chemicals and preservatives in hair care. I don’t love self promotion but when I see someone who shares the values I’m thinking I need to let them know salonsolids exists! (winky face).

    1. Thanks for the tip, Sarah! It’s wonderful that you’ve taken matters into your own hands (smiley face).

      I checked out your site and you’ve got some pretty interesting products. The only thing is that I couldn’t find an ingredients list anywhere, and as you can tell from this article, transparency is pretty important! If I missed it, please let me know! There are great tips on your Facebook page, too (smiley face).

      Keep up the great work — together, we’ll green the world eventually! Lol!

  8. Employee:

    Current employee here: I couldn’t agree more about all the Green washing going on. I will say, in Lush’s defense, two things; one being that we actually used to offer SLF-free shampoo, and the root cause there is absolutely lack of demand; it just did not sell, the herd of consumers likes their skin and hair products foamy and bubbly and apparently wouldn’t settle for less. The secondly absolutely anywhere does Lush market itself as “all-natural” or “organic”. Organic products are listed where applicable. The phrases that you’ll see a lot of however are ” fresh” and “handmade” the products don’t sit on shelves long before they’re in the store, and once there are marked out if they go unsold for too long. Where else can you find shampoo and shower gel with an expiration date on it.
    I will say the use of colors, fragrances, etc does make it hard for the sales workers to do their jobs.

    1. Thanks for your comment!

      I agree with you on many points; however, there is no denying that Lush can still do better. For instance, you mention that Lush used to carry SLS-free shampoo, but discontinued it due to lack of demand. Well, I think that’s because Lush is catering to a general, broad-ranging market, and the average consumer. If it was specifically targeting the eco-friendly or ethical consumer, perhaps it would have had different results. That Lush chose to use SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate) instead of attempting to perfect an SLS-free formula shows that the company puts profits first.

      Lush’s slogan may be “Fresh and Handmade” but it still markets to eco-friendly consumers, and other ethical shoppers. If you visit a Lush website, you’ll see the core values listed: fighting animal testing, fresh ingredients, ethical buying, 100% vegetarian, handmade, and naked packaging. Because Lush does have a commitment to sourcing ingredients ethically, it’s still one of the better companies out there. But because of this, it’s confusing to many consumers. This article aims to educate people looking to have Lush demystified, and many people arrive here because they are searching for an honest answer to the question, “Are Lush products natural?”

      It’s great to see a Lush employee actively thinking about this issue. I’ve had nothing but great experiences with Lush staff whenever I’ve visited stores. I definitely commend the company for its full disclosure policy, which means the staff can speak its mind without fear of repercussions.

  9. Luna:

    I was a big lush fan untill after 2 years of using their products i developed asthma skin conditions and had reaction to their deodorant. After looking so hard to find a natural and organic company that don’t use any fragrance or chemicals in any of their products. Their deodorants are 100 percent natural i have been using for 8 months no reactions no more. https://facebook.com/Isaac-Organics-1688948894671142/

    I am sharing this with everyone am so amazed with their products. Thank you so much for your blog for opening peoples eyes. Fantastic blog for raising awareness.

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Luna, and for the link! Isaac Organics looks like it could be a good alternative for those living in the UK (smiley face). The Facebook page doesn’t provide a full ingredients list per product, and there doesn’t appear to be a website, so I can’t look into it any further…

      Still, I’m glad you were able to find products you can safely use. There are so many reasons why people want synthetics out of their bath and beauty products! I’m sure your story isn’t unique, given that so many people have some sort of allergy / intolerance / sensitivity these days. Hopefully someone at Lush will realize the additional sales potential of going 100% natural ;)(winky face).

  10. Sophia Treppa:

    Thank you so much for this informative information!! I own sophias healing bath salts I use organic unrefined cold pressed coconut oil and essential oils in my salt blends. It is discouraging to a small business owner who is trying to bring a true natural product out there. I’m always hearing why doesn’t yours smell as strong as lush and why do they not have a pretty color! Thanks for pointing out what truly is natural

    1. You’re welcome, and thanks for doing your part by producing natural alternatives (smiley face).

  11. Jas:

    Thank you sooooooo soooo soooo much for updating your reviews of the lush products as ingredients have been changing. I just bought Full of Grace due to its rave reviews everywhere, but will have to return it now. Fragrance isn’t soothing to irritated skin. I’m so disappointed.

    1. You’re very welcome! Glad this article was useful to you (smiley face).

      When returning an unsatisfactory Lush product, make sure to mention that the item isn’t as eco-friendly or healthy as expected. It also wouldn’t hurt to email your feedback directly to the company. The more Lush hears from its customers, the more likely it is to improve…

  12. megan:

    One of the main ingredients of Lush’s Rainbow Fun…and other Fun products is TALC. These products are geared towards kids. As much as I love love love the smell of Rainbow Fun, I will no longer be buying or using it on my children. Lush needs to clean up their act.

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